This article is written by Ishan Arun Mudbidri from Marathwada Mitra Mandal’s Shankarrao Chavan Law College, Pune. This article talks about women’s empowerment in India.
“No struggle can ever succeed without women participation side by side with men. There are two powers in the world. One is the sword, one is the pen. There is a third power, stronger than both, that of women”. – Malala Yousafzai
For the overall growth of any country, the f-word is very important. And by the f-word I mean feminism. As mentioned in the above quote, with the participation of men and women together, any problem can be easily solved. Indian women have been treated differently since ancient India. Today, however, the times are changing, and this article throws some light on how Indian women are overcoming all the odds and emerging supreme.
History of women empowerment in India
Around 50% of the Indian population is women. Still, India has a disproportionate sex ratio. This is because women are still treated differently as compared to men, in different parts of the country. This problem has been seen from ancient India, where women were worshipped as goddesses and at the same time treated as slaves. In the Mahabharata, the wife of the Pandavas, Draupadi had to face all forms of inequality. This shows that women were treated lower than men. The ideal mindset of the society was to make the girl-child marry at a very young age. However, this state of affairs was weird and different as, on one hand, the daughters had the right to choose their husbands and on the other, they had to perform the practice of Sati. The British era brought various changes and improvements in this context as, in the West, women were treated equally and on par with men. In 1848, Savitribai Phule became the first woman educator in India. This gave women the courage that they can get out of the clutches of various forms. With the freedom struggle going on, women’s empowerment was the most important agenda for various social reformers and freedom fighters. Various social reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar, and even Mahatma Gandhi promoted women’s education, various other social norms like the abolition of sati, and banning child marriages, etc. This national uprising led to various reforms like the Abolition of the Sati Act 1829, the Hindu Widow Remarriage Act, 1856, The Child Restraint Act, 1929, The Women’s Right to Property Act, 1937, etc. The position of women in society started getting better after independence. The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1961, and The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, etc. were reforms that were implemented to save women from all forms of social injustice.
Due to the injustices faced by women in Indian society, they were unaware of what Independence, freedom is. The Constitution of India changed things. The Constitution guaranteed equality and justice in all spheres of life. It granted equality to women and ensured that the State implemented various schemes for their benefit. Some of the various provisions that guarantee gender equality are:
- Article 14 of the Constitution states that every person is equal before the law and has equal protection of the laws.
- Article 15 prohibits discrimination of any citizen on the grounds of religion, race, gender, customs, caste, etc.
- Article 16 provides equal opportunity to every citizen, in the context of employment to any office.
- Article 39A directs the States to promote justice on the basis of equal opportunity and to provide free legal aid for securing justice to every citizen.
- Article 42 directs the States to make provisions for just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief.
- Article 51A states that it is the duty of every citizen to renounce practices that are derogatory to the dignity of women.
Legal framework for the protection of women in India
In India, the laws related to women are classified into two categories, which are:
The Indian Penal Code
Under the Indian Penal Code 1860, the following crimes against women are identified:
- Rape (Section 376);
- Sexual harassment (Section 509);
- Torture (Section 498A);
- Dowry, dowry deaths (Section 302, Section 304B);
- Molestation (Section 354).
Various legal provisions in India, ensure the protection and safety of women and their rights. Some of them are:
The Equal Remuneration Act, 1976
This Act was established to ensure that men and women both, get equal pay and wages for the work done and that there is no discrimination on grounds of sex, in the matters of employment.
The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961
The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 was established, to stop the practice of paying or accepting dowry as a consideration for marriage.
The Special Marriage Act, 1954
The Special Marriage Act came into force in 1954. This Act was established to provide a special form of marriage, irrespective of the faith or religion they believe in.
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971
This Act was enacted to prohibit the practice of illegal abortions. This Act mentions the provisions by which a pregnancy can be terminated or aborted.
The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013
This Act was enacted to ensure that women are protected in their place of work. In the case of Vishaka v State of Rajasthan (1997), the Court laid down certain principles known as ‘The Vishaka Guidelines’. These principles were later converted into The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013
World policies on women empowerment
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was adopted in 1979 by the United Nations General Assembly and came into force in 1993. This convention is termed an international bill of rights for women and their empowerment. It sets out the conditions and provisions for discrimination against women. This convention has 30 articles and it lays down the various measures, which all States accepting the convention must follow. These measures include:
- To follow the equality between men and women, abolish all discriminatory frameworks enacted in the country, and implement laws that prohibit discrimination against women.
- To set up courts, tribunals, and other organizations which make sure that women get adequate protection against any form of discrimination.
- To end all acts of discrimination going on against women.
The countries which have accepted this convention, become legally bound by its provisions. India has also accepted this convention.
United Nations principles on women empowerment
Established in 2010, the United Nations Women’s Principles, help people understand how to empower women in every sphere of life. The principles are as follows:
- Incorporate a high-level leadership to help maintain gender equality,
- To treat all women and men equally, and not discriminate.
- To maintain equality in giving employment to both men and women, promote education, provide professional training for the development of women.
- To ensure the health and well-being of women.
- To promote equality by implementing various initiatives.
- To prepare a report on the progress of achieving gender equality.
Indian policies and schemes on women empowerment
In India, the empowerment of women and their rights has become a central issue. Post-independence, the government has enacted various commissions and policies for the upliftment of women. Some of those policies are:
National Policy for Women Empowerment
The main objective of the National Policy for the Empowerment of Women, 2001, is the upliftment and well-being of Indian women. Some of the other principles of this policy are:
- To create an environment where women realize their full potential.
- To provide equal participation and opportunities to women, and also provide them with decision-making powers.
- To give equal access to health services, quality education and training, equal pay and remuneration, all the necessary guidance required.
- To incorporate effective courts and legal systems, to protect women against discrimination.
The National Commission for Women
The National Commission for Women was set up in 1992. It was implemented to protect the legal rights of women. The main objectives of the commission were:
- To keep a check on the legal protections that are available to women.
- To recommend legal measures.
- To solve the grievances and issues of women.
- To help the government in implementing various policies for women.
The commission consists of the Chairman, five members nominated by the Central Government, including one member from the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, and a member-secretary.
Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao
The Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao Scheme was launched recently in 2015 and has emerged as one of the important policies for women empowerment. This campaign aims to prohibit female foeticide. Other objectives of this scheme include education and protection of the girl child, creating awareness among the weaker sections of society, eliminate gender-biased sex. The scheme mainly targets the regions of Uttarakhand, Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar.
Support to Training and Employment Programme for Women (STEP)
The Support to Training and Employment Programme for Women came into force in 1986. This scheme was established to provide employment opportunities for women, and also the skill and training needed to become self-employed. Other objectives of this scheme include:
- To provide training to develop various skills, for 5 years.
- Helping various women groups to set up employment programmes of their own.
- Providing access to health care, literacy, legal knowledge, etc.
The various sectors covered by this scheme are agriculture, animal husbandry, handicrafts, sericulture, fisheries, handlooms, etc. It also includes other skills like learning English, hospitality, travel, and tourism, etc.
This Scheme aims to prohibit the human trafficking of women and children. It was launched in 2007. This Scheme was implemented by the Ministry of Women and Child Welfare Development. Some of its objectives include:
- Preventing trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and children.
- Rescuing victims and taking care of them.
- Providing rehabilitation services and other amenities like food, shelter, clothing, medical services, etc.
Case laws where rights of women reigned supreme
The epitome of justice in India, the Supreme Court has been crucial in providing women with their rights. Some of these instances are:
Vineeta Sharma v. Rakesh Sharma (2020)
In this case, the Supreme Court ensured that the rights of women in the Hindu Undivided Family are protected. The Court held that the daughters in a Hindu undivided family shall have equal coparcenary rights by virtue of their birth. This is irrespective of the fact that the daughters were born before the Hindu Succession Act Amendment in 2005.
Shayara Bano v. Union of India (2017)
In this case, the Court held that the practice of instant Triple Talaq is against the sentiments of the Holy Quran. This led to the Muslim Women Protection of Rights of Marriage Act, 2019. According to this act, any Muslim husband who pronounces Triple Talaq to his wife shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years.
The Secretary, Ministry of Defence v. Babita Puniya (2020)
In this case, the Supreme Court granted a permanent commission to the women in the Indian Armed Forces. The women now are eligible for ranks, benefits, pension, and other schemes in the forces which are given to the male officers.
Mackinnon Mackenzie v. Audrey D’costa (1987)
A few suggestions
Even after so much progress and development, India ranks 136th out of the total 187 countries in the Human Development Index. This shows that work needs to be done at the grass root level. Further, in the Global Gender Gap Report published in 2020, India’s rank was 112th. Gender inequality and discrimination still exist in various parts of the country and remain to go unnoticed. The following are few suggestions which can be adopted to help women prosper more than they already have:
- The laws and schemes which are implemented for women empowerment, do not reach the majority of women. Most women are not aware of these laws. Hence, proper awareness and promotion of these laws are very important.
- Women these days cannot openly go and talk about women-centric issues. This is usually seen in the rural and backward areas of society. Hence, a safe environment must be created, where women can come together and talk about women-centric issues and help each other.
- The majority of women in India are illiterate. This makes women vulnerable and things get very difficult. Hence education should be made compulsory for every female in the country. Basic reading and writing material should also be provided to those women who cannot afford to buy.
Today, an Indian woman is a pilot, doctor, engineer, millionaire entrepreneur, and everything she wants to be. That’s how the times have changed. Women have proved to be better than men in all fields. However, as they were treated differently for so many years and were subject to equality since ancient India today, even after so many years, there still exist gaps in the context of women’s empowerment. In many parts of the country, women are still subject to inequality and gender discrimination. Many times, various schemes and policies implemented for the sake of women do not reach them. Hence, there are some serious concerns that need to be resolved in time.
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